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Do-not-call questions linger at state, national levels

Fewer Mississippians are being bothered by unwanted telemarketing calls, but some confusion lingers about the state and national do-not-call programs.

“Some people do not realize that if they sign up for the national no-call list, they also need to sign up for the Mississippi no-call list,” said Nielsen Cochran, commissioner for the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC). “If a Mississippi consumer signs up for the national do-not-call list only, it may take at least 90 days for us to get it because it’s downloaded to us quarterly.”

Established under the Mississippi Telephone Solicitation Act, the Do Not Call Registry went into effect July 1, 2003, giving citizens a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls at home. So far, 219,200 Mississippians have signed up for the state no-call registry, which the Mississippi PSC oversees.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, manages the National Do Not Call Registry, which lists 290,327 Mississippians. (The combined lists total more than a half million Mississippians.) The FTC, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Mississippi PSC enforce the rules. Registration is effective for five years.

“Mississippi has exemptions that the national list does not,” Cochran pointed out. “In the Mississippi do-not-call list legislation, locally owned and operated automobile dealerships, newspapers, insurance agents, politicians, etc., are exempt. For example, we didn’t want to prohibit anyone living in a small town that owned a newspaper from calling the welcome wagon for a list of newcomers to solicit new subscriptions. That’s not who we are after. We’ve been after — and have been real successful — national telemarketers whose main goal is to deceive and commit fraud with their sales pitch and to constantly harass our consumers. Those are the types of firms and telemarketers that it is our intent to hopefully reduce their activities in Mississippi.”

The number of active telemarketing firms registered with the Mississippi PSC is 128, down from 142. Formal complaints have been filed again 15 to 20 out-of-state telemarketers, but none in state, said Cochran.

That’s a statistic that J.L. Crager points to with pride.
Crager, owner of C&C Agency Inc., a Waynesboro-based firm that markets life insurance products throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, is one of few telemarketing firms based in Mississippi.

“Anybody that tells me to put them on a do-not-call list, I’m glad to do it because I don’t want to dial anybody that doesn’t want to be called,” he said. “I’ll even add people to the do-not-call list that hang-up. That’s a courtesy I provide.”

Some people believe they’re on a no-call list, but often when Crager double-checks, they aren’t.

“I’ll add them immediately anyway,” he said. “People need to be aware, however, that do-not-call lists take at least 30 days to be updated.”

When the national no-call registry went into effect last year, Crager admits there was initial confusion about how the new law affected state no-call lists.

“We were told that Mississippi partnered with the national no-call list, like Alabama does,” said Crager. “After six months, they called me and said, ‘You don’t have a Mississippi do-not-call list.’ I said, ‘Well, I was under the impression that I didn’t have to have one, because I thought as long as you had the national list, you didn’t have to have the state list,’ and they said, ‘No-no-no, that’s not how it works.’ So I had to buy the states of Mississippi and Louisiana for $800 a piece.”

The original Mississippi legislation did not allow the PSC to share information with any entity, including the federal government. This year, the Mississippi PSC is pushing legislation to amend the law to allow the state agency to download it to the national registry. “The ultimate goal is to have one workable list,” said Cochran.

Crager explained the national no-call list only provides phone numbers in five zip codes that can be downloaded without a charge.

“Then you have to pay $40 for every area after that,” he said. “Computers are not perfect and every once in a while, it will call someone on the list.”

Dean Garfinkel, chairman of Call Compliance Inc., a New York-based solution provider for the telemarketing industry, sells TeleBlock, a patented product with a 100% guarantee.

“It’s a feature like caller ID that telephone companies buy,” he said. “When the user makes a phone call, the central office at say MCI or Quest will look up the number against various state and federal databases to determine whether or not that call should be allowed. In real time, we block those outgoing calls.”

Every month, TeleBlock processes more than 100 million calls.

“Our customers who subscribe to the Mississippi and FTC lists for the area codes within that state cannot call a number on the do-not-call list,” he said. “Blocking is the fail-safe technology that the FTC talks about that’s guaranteed at that last point. List scrubbing, which has historically been done for the last 20 years, doesn’t work.”

CCC Interactive of Houston, Texas, one of the largest telemarketing firms with a presence in Mississippi selling financial services and consumer goods, subscribes to state and federal do-not-call lists, but handles it all in-house.

“We do not subscribe to a service,” explained C. J. Johnson, company senior vice president. “We have a full-time employee assigned to maintain our do-not-call databases to ensure they are up to speed. It’s a big job because we dial tens of millions of numbers every year.”

Despite the headaches associated with the new laws, Crager said telemarketing is still a valuable marketing tool.

“Telemarketing is the only way to get leads, unless you knock on a lot of doors,” he said.

The Mississippi Do-Not-Call Registry may be accessed online at ms.gov/psc/nocall/. For more information on the National Do-Not-Call List, visit DoNotCall.gov.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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